Jamie (Josh O'Connor) in Hope Gap (2020)
Related Movie: HOPE GAP
Josh O’Connor graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 2011 before breaking onto the scene with roles in Lone Scherfig’s The Riot Club (2014) and two Stephen Frears movies—the Lance Armstrong biographical drama The Program (2015) and the Academy Award® nominated Florence Foster Jenkins (2016).
In his latest role, O’Connor stars as Jamie, the son of Grace (Annette Bening) and Edward (Bill Nighy), in William Nicholson’s Hope Gap. Jamie receives a phone call from his father, Edward, requesting he leave London and come home to the white chalk cliffs of Hope Gap to visit for the weekend. Little does he know that Edward has more in store than just catching up over tea. Jamie’s first night ends with a tense family dinner during which a frustrated Grace urges the brow-beaten Edward to show a bit more passion in their relationship. The next morning while Grace is away at Church, Edward stuns Jamie with the real reason he invited him for the weekend. Edward plans to leave Grace that very day, and he’s asked Jamie along to soften the blow. What’s more, Edward has fallen in love with another woman.
In our exclusive interview, Josh O’Connor tells us a little about his character, Jamie, and what it was like working with acclaimed acting veterans Annette Bening and Bill Nighy. Josh also reveals which scene in the drama, romance Hope Gap was the most difficult to shoot and which was his favorite.
REGAL: What stuck out about this character [Jamie] in the screenplay that made you want to take on the role?
Josh O’Connor: “More often than not, the chief thing that interests me or attracts me to a role is something transformative. And this is a part that I felt would be almost more challenging because it, kind of, was the closest thing to myself I’ve played before. And I wanted to try and do everything in very small details and try and keep it nuanced. So I think that was it. And also I loved the writing. I think it’s beautifully lyrical and poetical. So yeah, it was the writing, the dialogue, and the character itself.
The setting had breathtaking landscapes with beautiful, white cliffs. Is this area of England, the South Downs, close to where you grew up?
It’s not actually, but I know it quite well. And I’ve spent a lot of time there with my family growing up. It’s a beautiful part of the world and very nostalgic for myself and for that character, of course. It was a great place to film for us, really. I really enjoyed it.
You start off the movie with a voice over of your character as a child visiting the rock pools of Hope Gap, and it ends with the same kind of visual. That’s a strong memory for Jamie throughout the movie. Do you have a similar experience from your childhood or memory, maybe of that shoreline, that you drew from portraying this character?
I did, yeah. There was a place I spent a lot of my childhood at. It’s a place on the South Coast, and it’s an extremely beautiful part of the world. I spent a lot of my upbringing down there going for holidays and things like that. It feels very familiar to me, so it was kind of accessible. I took a lot of notes from myself for this character. I kind of worked that way around it.
You get to share some scenes in this movie with two award-winning actors, Annette Bening and Bill Nighy. What was it like behind the scenes with them?
Bill is a very great friend of mine, so I spent a lot of my time with him. And Annette is completely wonderful and kind and loves to rehearse, which I love. It was a real treat. The three of us had a beautiful summer together. I loved every moment of it.
Is there a scene in particular that sticks out to you as the most difficult to shoot and then maybe a scene that was the most enjoyable to shoot?
There’s a kind of big emotional scene that was on the cliff edge with Annette that was probably the most difficult because it was just so windy and sort of terrifying and also emotionally tricky—arriving and there’s a kind of feeling that perhaps she might do something suicidal, and that’s kind of terrifying to him. So I think that was, in some ways, a kind of really tricky scene to play emotionally and literally physically.
A scene I loved doing so much was a scene with Bill and I where we walk along the beach with an ice cream. It was a beautiful scene, but also, we had such a giggle doing it. We really got the giggles because of the ice cream—because we’re children, and things like ice creams make us laugh.
Jamie (Josh O'Connor) and Edward (Bill Nighy) in Hope Gap (2020)
That first scene you mentioned, on those cliffs, obviously looked like you were really there, and it must have been kind of scary to be that high up.
It really was. We really were there, and it was as terrifying as it probably looked. I suppose we spent so much time up there that it became a little normal, but it’s actually incredibly dangerous up there.
We’re going to shift gears here and talk a little about the moviegoing experience in the theatre. Do you have a favorite memory of going to the theatre or a favorite movie that made you want to become an actor?
Yeah, so there’s two things. I’m a big cinephile and lover of cinema, so there’s numerous experiences I’ve had at the cinema that I’ve loved, and it’s very hard to narrow it down. But when I was studying in Bristol, in the UK, and my favorite cinema in the whole world, the place called The Watershed—which is a theatre on the canal of Bristol—they were doing a two-night special, reshowing, of Apocalypse Now—beautiful old cinema where it’s got the red curtains. I had always wanted to see Apocalypse Now in the movie theatre, and I saw it that day. It was kind of surreal and amazing, and I loved every minute.
Then, the other one…I remember seeing La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty) which is the Paolo Sorrentino film. I, actually, loved that movie at the time. I don’t know that I love it anymore so much, but certainly as a kind of cinematic experience...I loved every minute of it.
And then the film that kind of got me deciding I wanted to be an actor, and I again saw it on screen, was My Left Foot. And I saw that in a cinema in my hometown. Seeing Daniel Day-Lewis … kind of changed my life really, and then that was it.
What do you think audiences will gain from seeing this movie, Hope Gap, in the theatre on the big screen that they won’t be able to get seeing it any other way?
I think that they will get the kind of grandeur and the drama of the landscape. I think that’s the biggest thing they are going to gain. These structures, like the white cliffs, I don’t think that they necessarily fit as uniquely to the ratio of a laptop or a television screen. And I think a movie theatre really helps that experience.